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What good is meaning in life?

Woodard, Christopher

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Professor of Moral & Political Philosophy


Most philosophers writing on meaning in life agree that it is a distinct kind of final value. This consensus view has two components: the ‘final value claim’ that meaning in life is a kind of final value, and the ‘distinctness claim’ that it is distinct from all other kinds of final value. This paper discusses some difficulties in vindicating both claims at once. One way to underscore the distinctness of meaning, for example, is to retain a feature of our pretheoretical concept of meaning in life, according to which the least possible quantity of meaning is meaninglessness. Unfortunately, this makes it harder to defend the claim that meaning is a kind of final value. On the other hand, revising the concept to allow for negative meaning renders meaning closer in structure to other kinds of final value, but also makes it harder to defend the distinctness claim. In light of these difficulties, the paper explores the prospects of a theory of meaning in life which departs from the consensus view by rejecting the final value claim. On such a view, the value of meaning in life is entirely instrumental.


Woodard, C. (2017). What good is meaning in life?. De Ethica, 4(3),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 8, 2017
Publication Date Dec 4, 2017
Deposit Date Sep 15, 2017
Publicly Available Date Dec 4, 2017
Journal De Ethica
Electronic ISSN 2001-8819
Publisher Linkoeping University Electronic Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 4
Issue 3
Keywords Meaning in life; final value; instrumental value; negative meaning; meaninglessness
Public URL
Publisher URL


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